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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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Who are the egwugwu in real life (reference from Things Fall Apart)?  

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The egwugwu are masked dancers that represent the nine ancestral spirits of Umuofia. These masked ancestral spirits are enigmatic in nature and comprise of nine revered village elders, who ceremonially gather to administer justice. The nine masked egwugwu are respected and feared throughout the clan and symbolically represent the Igbo culture and Umuofia's independence. Achebe also suggests that Okonkwo is one of the masked egwugwu. In the novel, Enoch, a zealous convert, unmasks one of the egwugwu, which prompts the villagers to react by burning a Christian church. The European colonists end up arresting the village elders and mock them as they sit in a cell. The masked egwugwu are one of the many lively features of the Igbo culture, which Chinua Achebe illustrates as vibrant and complex.

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The Egwugwu are ancestral spirit masqueraders who play a significant role in the religious traditions and rituals of the Igbo people of Nigeria (in Things Fall Apart, the Igbo are called "Ibo").  The novel follows the Igbos in pre-colonial Nigeria, when traditions and rituals maintained a more important place than they do now.  The "secrets of the Egwugwu" are associated with a young Igbo man's coming of age ritual.

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